Few hours before the Monsoon Session of the UP Assembly started on Tuesday, Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was imposed around the Vidhan Sabha Bhawan “with immediate effect” till September 7 to maintain the “law and order situation”. No tractors, wagons, bullock carts, tongas, inflammable materials, gas cylinders and weapons are allowed within 1 km of the Vidhan Sabha.
In a press note, Lucknow joint commissioner of police (law and order) Piyush Mordia said that the restrictions have been imposed as there is a strong possibility of demonstrations with the start of the Assembly session. Additional police force and personnel of Rapid Action Force, Provincial Armed Constabulary and other paramilitary personnel forces will also be deployed for to maintain security.
The order was opposed by several farmers and state employees unions. While Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait termed the decision “anti-farmer”, Centre of Indian Trade Unions general secretary Prem Nath Rai said that ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is clamping down on “democratic rights”.
The BKU said that Section 144 was imposed after Tikait had said in a press conference in Lucknow that UP would be the next major protest destination and farmers are expected to kick off the mission with a massive ‘Kisan Mahapanchayat’ in Muzaffarnagar, western UP, on September 5. Tikait had warned the UP government that all roads leading to Lucknow will be sealed by farmers in September.
“The government has banned tractors and bullock carts, which are used to produce crops, near the Vidhan Sabha. Either the government should stop consuming grains grown by farmers or we will not follow any such decision,” BKU vice-president Harinam Singh Verma told Newsclick.
“When Smriti Irani was in the Opposition, she and her colleagues would take to the streets against rising fuel and LPG prices. Now, the gang is completely silent as inflation has spiked and farmers have been protesting the farm laws for the more than six months,” Verma said.
Asked about ‘Mission UP’, the BKU leader said that around 10 lakh farmers, with some from Sikkim, Kerala, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, are expected to join the Mahapanchayat.
After the Mahapanchayat, at least, 17 such rallies, demonstrations and mahapanchayats will be held across the state, Rai told Newsclick.
Mukut Singh, general secretary of All Indian Kisan Sabha, UP, said, “The state government is afraid because the voice against farm laws and government policies is getting louder. Even opposition parties hit the road over increasing fuel prices. Therefore, the government is resorting to such measures to stop the farmers.”
Maintaining that their stir will continue unless the farm laws are repealed, Rai said, “This is new normal ever since Narendra Modi came to power. The Yogi government had an idea opposition MLAs and leaders will come to Assembly in tractors and bullock carts carrying placards on Covid-19 deaths and the rise in fuel prices. Therefore, it barred leaders and workers from demonstrating near the Vidhan.”
Rai said though there are a few designated protest sites in Lucknow, including Parivartan Chowk, Eco Garden and Ambedkar Memorial Park, the government does not allow protesters to participate in a democratic way. However, he said that such measures “won’t deter them from holding protests against the farm laws till they are repealed”.
The Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) was already invoked by the state government in May till November, banning strikes in all state government departments and corporations for six months. The UP government had first invoked ESMA for six months in May 2020 and extended it for another six months in November.